Marli Roode’s ‘A Season in Paradise’ contains sharp prose and an economical evocation of place, but what impressed me most was its sure portrayal of the relationship between Nico and Jo, an estranged father and daughter. Though the action of the piece is mostly static, the conversation between the two is so tense, and often fraught with hostility, that it generates urgency, and at times a sense of danger. There’s also just the right amount of backstory – all too often short stories ask readers to care about vague characters placed in difficult situations. Why should we care that Richard or Rita has an unhappy marriage/relationship/unfulfilled dream of being a stripper when we know them less well than the man who holds the ‘GOLF SALE’ sign at the traffic lights?
The conversation is essentially a contest between Jo and her father, with her resentment against him on one side, and him wanting her help on the other. Her standing over him at the start initially seems to suggest a position of strength. But though both manage to wound each other, there’s a sense of inevitability (and not just because of the demands of plot) that she is going to capitulate. Though Nico’s casual, provocative racism is unpleasant, he’s also funny and perceptive (albeit viciously). It’s the unpredictability of this combination that makes him so interesting, and helps the reader to partially understand why Jo doesn’t just walk away. Though this is an extract from a novel, the ending works well, as it manages to be both open in terms of plot, and yet still underlines Jo’s small defeat. At the end, the father stands, ‘stronger, more solid.’